It has been a little while since the last time the Atlanta Hawks were in a rebuilding mode. However, after ten straight seasons of making the playoffs, the team fell short of the playoffs in 2017-2018 and the outcome was virtually assured for months. While it may be hard to understand the different ways a team can rebuild, there are plenty of examples around the league of what not to do after a complete team tear-down.
The Hawks seem to fall into the category of a (relatively) small market team that needs to hit the NBA Draft lottery, maybe more than once, in order to return to the postseason. This year, the team will own three first round picks, with a mid-first round selection via Minnesota and the No. 30 overall pick via Houston. So, owning basically a blank slate, where do the Hawks go from here?
Under new management in 2018, Atlanta must first figure out the direction in which the team wants to head and what kind of culture the franchise wants to create moving into the next generation of Hawk fans and players. The team has performed well in talent evaluation and deployed a second-to-none development staff in the past but that, of course, was under a different brain trust.
With Travis Schlenk now taking over the decision making in the Atlanta front office, there could be some changing of trajectory. In short, the team could choose to head in a different direction regarding the coaching staff if Schlenk and his staff have a different blueprint they’d like to follow besides the Spurs-ian system currently implemented.
Now, it may seem blasphemous to talk about head coach Mike Budenholzer slipping away after the miracle work his staff has done in this short time with the Hawks but, in the end, it may not be as much of a stretch as you might think. Budenholzer is an established NBA head coach and a great one at that, however, there’s been no guarantee that he would like to stick around for a rebuild that could take three, four or even five more seasons to fully complete. Losing night in and night out while watching young guys go through their growing pains is something that a coach of Budenholzer’s caliber would not necessarily sign up for and there have been whispers to that end.
If the Hawks did choose to go in a different direction with the coaching staff (or if Budenholzer made the choice for them), there would need to be some decisions made before the 2018 draft with what will presumably be a top-five pick. It is important to have the coach and coaching staff in place from the very start of a rebuild.
There is also no guarantee that Budenholzer or the team have any intention of severing ties or changing guards which would be quite alright as well. Once everything is in place as far as the staff beneath Schlenk goes, and it would seem this summer we will find out the direction Schlenk has in mind, the team can then decide which type of players in the draft that they need to target.
As mentioned previously, the Hawks will have three first round selections in the 2018 Draft and, with Atlanta’s own pick looking like a premium asset, it would seem safe to assume that the team wants to target a cornerstone player at that spot. From Atlanta’s last NBA Draft, it seems as though Schlenk and his scouting department value athleticism and three-point shooting most of all which fits since he was the Assistant General Manager to Bob Myers for the Golden State Warriors in his most recent post before joining the Hawks.
With Atlanta’s 2017 draft turning out pretty well with the additions of John Collins and, to a lesser extent, Tyler Dorsey to the squad, there is some hope that the new talent evaluation Schlenk has brought in will turn out some special guys like Collins has been and alike the talent that the Warriors were able to unearth when Schlenk was involved in that front office with the likes of Curry, Thompson and Green all being draft picks of Golden State.
This aforementioned rebuild will not happen overnight and, after the 2018 draft, the Hawks will need to make some tough decisions on their top remaining players. Kent Bazemore, Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala (facing potential free agency if he declines a player option) are all that remain of the Hawks team that famously won 60 games back in 2014-15 and the team will have to decide which veterans to hold onto and which ones to try to use in an effort to gain future assets. The team will also be deciding which veterans are best suited to stick around for guidance of what will be a very young team next season.
The rebuilding timeline that the Hawks are on currently puts their best case scenario for contention at three seasons down the road and, on the long end, five seasons in the future. After (or maybe even before) the draft, it would be best to gauge the players interest on their desire to play on a team that most likely will not make the playoffs for at least another 3 years, through much of their prime seasons, and if veterans desire to be moved to a team that is contending, it would then be interesting to see what Schlenk and his staff could get in return to aid the team in its rebuild.
It would also be safe to assume that the next three seasons will feature a ton of youth on future Atlanta squads going forward, and with the team already giving contracts to young G-League players like Jaylen Morris, Antonius Cleveland, Damion Lee and more to see what they might be able to offer, it would seem that the Hawks are ahead of the curve. Many other successful rebuilding teams have done this in the past including the likes of Golden State and the 76ers to try and find a “diamond in the rough” type of player.
At any rate, the next few seasons in Atlanta will most likely be like nothing fans have seen in the last decade, and even though the team may not perform at a high level on some nights, it will be progress nonetheless. Make sure to keep an eye on fresh, young names that make their way onto the roster as you never know which players could end up contributing on the next great Hawks team. Fasten your seat belts, because this rebuild is just getting started.